Zigzag Street

Roundhouse Theatre (La Boite)


Adapted by Philip Dean from the novel by Nick Earls

Professional production

If you’re old enough to remember Craven A cigarettes in a red tin box, you’re probably too old to appreciate this show.

Nick Earls, whose novel Zigzag Street has here been adapted for the stage by Philip Dean, is currently the corporate face of young vibrant Brisbane, and both are about growing up in the 1990s, which cuts out anyone born before the mid-sixties, especially anyone old enough to be this young man’s Granny.

Richard (Christopher Summers) is a loser, a young lawyer who is hanging-on rather than up-and-coming, and his life is empty. His only companions are his dead grandmother’s cat (he lives in her old house) and a sock-friend called Purvis. His girlfriend has walked out on him, his mother expects him to renovate the house, and he hasn’t had a shag in months. Does he need the love of a good woman or what?

What he gets instead is the advice of his good friend Jeff (Lucas Stibbard with a mouthful of pebbles), whose idea of cheering him up is to tell him that although his life is crap, at least that with crap there is hope, and that Richard’s crap is special. Jeff also brings his girlfriend (Caroline Dunphy) to visit with food and booze, and there’s a lot of serious drinking.

Stibbard also plays Greg, a GP with an extremely bad wig, who looks and behaves more like an undergraduate than a threat. His sinister suggestions that Rick is suicidal and needs “a friend to talk to” are too silly to be taken seriously, and these scenes just trivialise even further what is a rather shallow coming-of-age saga. Richard is 28, which is rather late to grow up, even in the 1990s, and his behaviour is more like that of the 19-year-olds he fantasises about than a lawyer dealing with international clients.

It’s a mildly funny play some of the very young people in the first night audience were shrieking with hysteria, but not many cheered up by little incidents like the Nude Office Dancing, the Ride of the Whipper-Snipper Valkyries, Bonk the Boss, and the Evil Lord of the Schlong, but the mood was inconsistent, swinging from cynicism to generational nostalgia to outright schmaltz at the end, when Richard finally finds Tru Lerv (did you really think he wouldn’t?).

This makes it hard to get a handle on, especially as the cast seemed quite nervous in the echoing expanses of the Roundhouse Theatre, and it wasn’t until the second half that both Cara McIlveen (Deb/Girl/Renee/Rachel) and Lucas Stibbard managed to get rid of their pebble-in-the-mouth voices and become recognisable human beings. In fact, the whole show lightened up considerably after interval, as the pace accelerated and the actors started to enjoy what they were doing.

Caroline Dunphy has done the show before, when it toured last year, as has McIlveen, but Stibbard and Christopher Summers are new to the roles. Both are still a little self-conscious, and too often Summers plays Richard more like a confused new graduate than a man in an important position and if that’s how corporate lawyers behave, I’m glad my livelihood doesn’t depend on their expertise.

It’s not the most exciting show in town, but it’s harmless entertainment, and those who saw the show in its previous manifestation will enjoy Bill Haycock’s new vinyl record turntable set, which is much tighter, economical and claustrophobic than the rambling steps of the 1994 version. And what can one say about David Walters except that we’re lucky to have him in Brisbane? His lighting never draws attention to itself, but heightens and adds to the emotional impact of the play, and his little white Queenslander with the red roof and trim is a minor gem, even without a picket fence and jasmine.

This production of Zigzag Street (a place which does exist I drove past it only this morning) will be much better when the new cast have relaxed into it, because it’s the kind of play that begs for unselfconscious naturalism. If we can’t believe in these 20-something Brisbanites the play’s not going to work, for it doesn’t have much going for it except the joy of recognition. And when director Jean-Marc Russ allows that to happen, it will become a nice little crowd-pleaser.

Directed by Jean-Marc Russ

Playing until 3 September 2005.

Running time: 2 hrs 25 minutes, including 20 minute interval

— Alison Cotes
(Performance seen: Wed 17th August 2005)